"You can't tell me that the whole of the U.S. and Canada can't even sort out their national grid. It's ridiculous," said Becky Jones, 27, whose Virgin Atlantic flight to New York returned to London midway across the Atlantic due to the blackout.
British Airways said it had canceled five flights from Heathrow to North America, affecting some 1,400 passengers, including services to New York, Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal.
"Thousands of British holidaymakers were facing travel chaos today after a massive blackout brought large parts of northeastern America to a virtual standstill," read the Times of London.
At Frankfurt international airport in Germany, incoming U.S. flights were delayed by up to seven hours, spokesman Wolf-Dieter Schaller said, as the blackout rolled across a vast swath of the northern United States and southern Canada.
The massive power outages grabbed headlines from Tokyo to London with scenes of city workers fleeing their buildings when the power went off shortly after 4 p.m. EDT Thursday.
"Blackout Hell for 50 Million" said The Sun tabloid in Britain. "America was in chaos last night as power cut left millions in the dark," the Sun proclaimed.
"Chaos in America" read a front-page headline in Bild, Germany's top-circulation daily. A subsequent headline read "New York between Panic and Party."
"Serious breakdown in electricity in North America," shouted Le Monde over a picture of a darkened Roxy theater. Agence France-Presse dubbed it "the worst blackout in the continent's history."
"New York knocked out" said the Swedish Aftonbladet tabloid, which carried a photograph of masses of people crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
News of the blackout played almost continuously on Britain's 24-hours news stations, Sky and BBC News 24. Cameras trained on New York City's crowded streets played back live images of droves of city workers walking home.
The scenes of chaos left many scratching their heads.
"How could such a thing happen? I mean, everything was shut down?" said Setsuko Kato, a 55-year-old Japanese housewife. "It would be a disaster if that happens here."
Elsewhere, though, people in developing countries wondered how something so common to them could bring a huge swath of the world's superpower to a grinding halt.
"Look at their response there in New York," popular radio commentator Joe Taruc wondered aloud in his Friday morning talk show in Manila. "If it happened here, it would be nothing out of the ordinary."
In Liberia, once sub-Saharan Africa's richest nation, power has been out since 1992. Factional fighting under Charles Taylor destroyed the hydroelectric plant, and it hasn't been fixed.
Iraqis, who have been enduring 120-degree heat largely without electricity as U.S. administrators strugge to get power back to pre-war levels, saw the North American outage as a bit of poetic justice.
"I hope it lasts for 20 years. Let them feel our suffering," George Ruweid, 27, playing cards with friends on a Baghdad sidewalk, said of the U.S. blackout.
"Blackouts are a part of our daily life. I can't understand why there is such panic in America," said Unal Karatas, 44, a pretzel vendor in Ankara, Turkey.